World Cup Football 2022 - Qatar

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World Cup Diary

Day 6: Friday 25th November

A hugely disappointing Wales performance was epitomised by the sending of off Hennessy late on. The 10 men could not hold out as Iran scored twice deep into stoppage time to secure the three points and keep their hopes of qualification alive.

All the neutrals hoped that Qatar could put in a much better performance than they did in the opening match but for the first hour or so there was little sign of any improvement and by then Senegal were deservedly 2-0 up. Something changed at that point and finally, finally Qatar started to play. They offered more in attack, their passes started finding the targets and they even managed to score a goal. When Senegal scored again, their heads didn't drop either and they played well right to the final whistle. But it was all too late and Qatar have become the first team to be eliminated.

The Netherlands started very brightly against Ecuador with Gakpo getting on the scoresheet again after just 6 minutes. As the game wore on, Ecuador came more and more into it and had by far the better chances in the second half. They could only manage to convert one of them and Valencia again leads the top scorers' list. He had to come off on 85 minutes with what seemed the same problem as in the first match which remains a worry.

The final match of the day was underwhelming. The U.S.A. were industrious and played with intensity across the pitch but hitting the woodwork was as close as they came. In contrast, England were lethargic and offered surprisingly little going forward. All the teams in group B remain in with a chance of qualifying going into the final round of matches.

Day 5: Thursday 24th November

Switzerland vs Cameroon was was combative if not exactly overflowing with skill on show. As a spectacle it was redeemed by Embolo scoring against the country of his birth and refusing to celebrate the strike.

Uruguay vs South Korea promised much and was a good, entertaining contest. The Koreans had much of the early pressure but Uruguay came more into it as the match progressed with Gimenez in particular making some incisive deep passes to provide opportunities. Godin hit the woodwork but that was as close to scoring as either team would come.

Then it was time for Portugal and you-know-who to make their entry. The first half was all theirs, including a disallowed goal but it took until the second half for a valid score. Cristiano Ronaldo re-wrote the record books (again) with a goal in 5 separate World Cups. However, this only stung Ghana into action and they finally started to pose a threat, almost winning it just before the end as Costa released the ball from his grasp to kick it upfield unaware that Williams was behind him. The poacher raced past the keeper onto the ball and would surely have scored to level it up had he not slipped at the vital moment.

Last to make their appearances were Brazil and Serbia and for the first half it was a fairly even contest, although Brazil had the majority of the possession and more shots. The deadlock was broken after half time with a poacher's goal by Richarlison knocking in a close-range rebound before he doubled the lead with a contender for goal of the tournament, acrobatically finishing over his left shoulder. Brazil also hit the woodwork a couple of times and showed that they could deal with the physicality of their large opponents.

Day 4: Wednesday 23rd November

Morocco opened their campaign against the runners-up from 2018 and did a good job of stifling Croatia. The Europeans offered more and Modrić bossed the midfield as usual but they just could not find enough in the final third to beat the resolut Moroccans. The result means that both teams are in with a shout in group F but will need to be more incisive in the remaining fixtures.

Germany made a statement before their match even kicked off by posing for their team photo with their hands over their mouths. This overt demonstration against FIFA's clamp down has left many to ask - where was this attitude when Özil spoke out? When the game itself started it soon became clear that the Germans had spent more time planning their protest than their gameplay. Japan had the better of the first half, if not most of the posession, until Gündogan converted a penalty.

The second half was even better. Japan took the initiative, pressed more, committed more forward and finally took the lead on 83 minutes with Germany offering even less than they had in the first half. In the end they were hanging on not to concede any more.

No such problems for Spain, another of the fancied European sides when they took on Costa Rica. After a few missed chances in the opening 10 minutes, Olmo broke the deadlock and the floodgates opened. After conceding 3 goals in half an hour, Costa Rica retreated into their shells and just went for damage limitation. It didn't work. Gavi scored the pick of the bunch but Spain looked great - it remains to be seen how they will fare against more testing opponents.

Nobody seems to know how on earth Canada did not win their match. They were adventurous, in control, solid in defence, gave Belgium a serious test but their opponents prevailed entirely against the run of play when Batshuayi scored the only goal of the game just before half time. On this basis, Canada thoroughly deserve their place in Qatar and will surely take points off someone in this group.

Day 3: Tuesday 22nd November

A cracking start to today's programme as Argentina took an early lead through a penalty (Messi, of course) with Saudi Arabia doing well to hang on until half time. But then the second half kicked off and the fixture turned on its head with 2 goals for the Saudis in the opening 10 minutes including an absolute stunner from Al-Dawsari. They kept the tempo up until the last 20 minutes or so when it was backs-to-the-wall keeping the much-fancied South Americans at bay.

Denmark vs Tunisia had much to live up to after that and, despite an absence of goals, it was actually a great match. Very lively, end to end stuff with the Tunisians really putting in the work and not allowing Denmark any time on the ball.

Poland are an enigma. They have the players and a really world-class striker in Lewandowski but looked completely out of sorts against a well-drilled Mexico side who would have won this easily if they only had a bit of quality in the final third. Poland were awarded a soft penalty towards the end but Lewandowski saw his attempt well saved by Ochoa and is therefore still waiting for his first goal in a World Cup. Both of these teams will need more end product in their remaining matches if they have any thoughts about qualifying from the group.

Current holders France started their defence against Australia and quickly found themselves a goal down to the Oceania qualifiers. But then they started to turn on the style with incisive moves from Mbappé on the left and Dembélé on the right they cut swathes through the Australian defence and despite some wasteful finishing were soon on top. The socceroos had chances and hit the woodwork at the end of the first half but France ran out comfortable winners in the end.

Day 2: Monday 21st November

FIFA started off the day in typically antagonistic manner by announcing that they would card any player who wears the rainbow armband. One wonders quite how fragile the Qatari regime must be if it considers a brightly-coloured armband to be a real and significant threat.

Back to matters on the pitch. Iran were up against it within 5 minutes when they lost their first choice keeper to a head injury sustained from his own defender. The fact that the officials allowed him to try to carry on when he was clearly in trouble will be cause for concern. After that England were made to look good by Iran in attack but still managed to concede 2 against a team not known for their scoring prowess.

It was also remarkable that a total of 24 minutes of stoppage time were played in this match. Some of this was attributable to the injury to the Iranian keeper but it is one of the longest matches in world cup history as a result.

Senegal were clearly missing Sadio Mane (and which team wouldn't?). Still they gave the Netherlands a good game for almost the full 90 minutes but fell apart at the end.

All the emotion was with Wales making their first appearance in the finals for 64 years. In a good match with end-to-end football they were undone by a piece of skill from Weah but managed to claw back a draw thanks to a clumsy foul on Bale in the area - the man himself dispatching the penalty despite the best efforts of the keeper. Neither team will fear Iran on this showing and who goes through may well come down to goal difference.

Day 1: Sunday 20th November

And we're off! The re-scheduled opening fixture saw the hosts have a go but they could not really compete with the skill and experience of Ecuador and Enner Valencia in particular. He was easily the best player on the pitch today and could have had a hat-trick. His team will be concerned about the injury which forced him off but can be happy with a job well done so far. On this showing, Qatar will be lucky to grab a point off anyone.

Prelude

If there's one thing this tournament is guaranteed to be, it is controversial. Between the initial bidding process, the widely reported abuse of workers during the construction of stadia and the ongoing fallout from the Qatari regime's intolerance of just about everything there is plenty of controversy to go around.

With squad sizes expanded up to a possible 26 players this time around there has been even more debate about who will be picked. The squads are still being finalised in the fortnight running up to the opening match so places will remain up for grabs until the last possible moment.

FIFA have managed to outdo themselves by banning Denmark from wearing shirts with the message "Human Rights for All". Apparently FIFA think that human rights are not for all. What a mess.

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Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.


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